According to its founders – Will Nicholls, Ernie Webb and Catherine Bainbridge – the Nation was started as a means of keeping the Cree people informed of the politics that were shaping their daily lives and keeping the Cree leadership on its toes.
In celebration of 20 years of stories about Crees and the people who mattered to them, various leaders express their take on what having an independent publication has done for Eeyou Istchee over the past two decades and the impact it has had on their own political and administrative careers.
The following four questions were sent to several prominent Cree leaders to get their views on the Nation and to see how it has felt being scrutinized by the magazine.
1) The creators of the Nation magazine said their inspiration for developing the magazine was to create a public record? Coming from the perspective of a politician, how did you see this play out?
2) How do you feel the Nation covered you over the span of your political career?
3) Do you have a favourite memory of the magazine or moment in time that you would like to share?
4) Is there anything else you would like to add?
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come
1) There is no question whatsoever that a healthy democratic Nation requires a dynamic and rigorous journalism sector. This is required for two basic reasons. First, there needs to be a chronicle and record of the important events occurring within a Nation, both on a day-to-day level and for those events which take on longer term historical importance. The other fundamental reason for having a vibrant journalism sector is to put the government of the day under scrutiny on behalf of the larger population who must evaluate the performance of the government and who must exercise their responsibility in making choices regarding leadership during times of elections.
In combination, these two roles of journalism result in our having an informed population so that democracy can work. Without an informed population the door is opened to abuses of power and abuses of authority. A healthy journalism sector is part of the “checks and balances” that a democratic society requires that prevents abuses.
The Nation has consistently reported on, and recorded, events and issues in the Cree Nation. You have done an excellent job of reporting on our Annual General Assemblies, major special Assemblies and important events as they have unfolded.
The Nation has also taken every Cree leader to task on important issues of the day and it has demanded that we be accountable.
Although there were times when I disagreed with the Nation’s editorial positions on certain key issues, I feel very comfortable in saying that, by and large, the Nation magazine has carried out its journalistic role for the benefit of the people of Eeyou Istchee.
2) As I mentioned, it is the role of journalism to hold politicians and leaders accountable. At the same time, it is the role of leaders to move forward on a vision and on an agenda. Sometimes, as each carries out its responsibilities, there is conflict, but I think it is normal and it is appropriate for there to be a healthy tension between journalism and government. So long as that healthy tension is accompanied by a healthy respect for each other then the outcome tends to be positive.
Although I didn’t always agree with the Nation’s editorial positions on certain issues, and there were times I didn’t agree with the way in which certain issues were reported on, by and large, I have found the Nation to be understanding of the larger vision for the Cree Nation which has been the basis of my leadership and fair in the way in which that has been portrayed.
3) When I look back on my tenure as Grand Chief, I see as one of the pivotal turning-points in Cree history our collective response to the possibility of Quebec secession at the time of the 1995 Quebec referendum. It was a critical moment when we came together in the greatest display of our Cree unity around an issue that had a potentially huge impact on our territory and on our treaty. The coverage of that special time in our history by the Nation was extremely helpful in explaining the position of the Grand Council to our people and in helping them to make an informed decision not only for the Quebec referendum, but also for the referendum the Cree Nation itself held about that issue. I will always be grateful to the Nation for its role at that moment in our history.
4) Over the past 40 years of Cree history we have made major breakthroughs and achievements in obtaining the recognition of Indigenous rights and the translation of those rights into tangible benefits for our people. For those of us who have been intimately involved in those struggles and those achievements, we have all learned so much along the way and we have grown and matured personally and professionally. I don’t think you would mind my saying that, in my opinion, the Nation has also grown and matured over the last 20 years since it first began publishing. The Nation, as a result of that growing maturity, has gained more respect and credibility from the people of Eeyou Istchee. I look forward to seeing the Nation continue its important role in keeping our people informed about key issues of the day and reporting on the different views and perspectives which our people may have on those issues.
Abel Bosum, former Chief of Oujé-Bougoumou
1) If the objective, at the outset of the Nation, was to ensure that there would be a record of Cree life over the years, it certainly has done that. And, in fact, there is really no other entity or initiative in the Cree world that has done that as thoroughly and as consistently as the Nation has. I find it very interesting to review past issues of the Nation going back 20 years and, in a sense, reliving those times and reliving the events captured in the magazine’s articles. Reviewing those old issues also helps in giving an understanding to the major events in Cree history over the last 20 years by providing a feel for the times and the circumstances in which those major events took place.
2) Well, I need to be honest with you. I have felt that over the years there has been both excellent coverage of events I have been involved in, and there has been coverage that I felt missed the mark. During the time I was Chief of Oujé-Bougoumou, my community went through some very long and very difficult political struggles just to be recognized as a distinct Cree community and that we had a right to a permanent village. We also had a remarkably exciting time concluding our agreements with Quebec and Canada and then going on to plan and build an award-winning village. During all that time, the Nation was very supportive and did an excellent job of reporting on the status of our political struggles and in reporting on our eventual achievements and successes.
After stepping down as Chief, I became involved with the Grand Council on important regional negotiations. Probably the most important of those regional files was the negotiations of the Paix des Braves. As you know, the Nation took a very critical position regarding that historic agreement and, in my opinion, went too far in its personal attacks on both the Grand Chief at the time, Ted Moses, and to some extent on the whole negotiating team. I felt, at the time, that this was unfair and that the criticisms weren’t based on a full understanding of the Paix des Braves and the circumstances which made that agreement possible. I think that as time has moved forward the people of Eeyou Istchee have come to better understand the Paix des Braves, how it has positively benefited our communities, and I think there has been an appreciation of the efforts of our leaders at the time.
Around the same time as we were trying to establish a new relationship with Quebec through the Paix des Braves, we became aware in Oujé-Bougoumou of the presence of contaminants in our traditional waters resulting from the mining activities of the past. To address that issue, we knew that we needed to conduct a number of studies to determine, first, whether our people were being harmed by those contaminants, and then to determine whether there was a long-term environmental risk involved as well. For the first time in its history, Quebec agreed to our insistence on establishing a joint approach to dealing with this issue in a very comprehensive and scientifically sound way. Both Quebec and Oujé appointed an expert to represent them in a committee that guided all the studies that needed to be undertaken. We went to great lengths to find the most qualified experts to represent Oujé.
Many of us in Oujé felt that the Nation had taken an extreme and an overly alarmist position on this issue and, in fact, accused us of covering up what was happening. This was not only far from the truth but also very hurtful, especially for those of us who had devoted so many years to struggle on behalf of the community members to improve the quality of their lives. As a result of our hard work over the course of the last 12 years, we have now secured a commitment from Quebec to make a very substantial financial contribution toward the restoration of the affected waters.
I do have to say, though, that in more recent years the Nation has done a very good job of covering events in the Cree Nation. I was particularly pleased with the way in which the magazine has covered the events around our new Governance Agreement, and this has been very much appreciated as it provided good information to the people of Eeyou Istchee.
3) I remember when the Nation first began to be published and how proud I felt about the young Cree individuals who showed initiative in starting up their own magazine, and I remember looking forward to each new edition in those early years. I particularly looked forward, as everyone else did back then, to the “personals” section when people in the Cree communities sent messages to each other via the Nation. There were all kinds of messages and it was so much fun reading them. Now Facebook, Twitter and texting have replaced all that, but at the time those were very special moments.
4) Although I have had my concerns about the Nation in the past, I have tried to view things in context. When we are young we tend to be more confrontational, more challenging and we tend to see things more in “black-and-white” terms. I was that way myself when I was younger. As we grow older we tend to be more thoughtful and we become more understanding of the grey areas in life, the areas in between the black and the white, in our personal lives and in our work.
I guess that the important thing is whether the commitment is there towards the truth and if there is respect for the truth. If that respect is there I always have faith that the thoughtfulness will eventually emerge. In my way of thinking about it, that is the change I have witnessed with the Nation over the years. I congratulate you on your 20th anniversary, and I am very optimistic about the future of the Nation and I believe it will continue to play an important role in the life of the Cree Nation.
Ashley Iserhoff, former Deputy Grand Chief
1) First of all I want to say congratulations to the Nation on its 20th anniversary!
For any society to function properly, people need to be informed. And way back we didn’t have a mechanism for proper communication to address the Cree Nation.
Over time we adjusted and changed part of this with radio and print and filling that void was the Nation.
When it came out in the 1990s it gave us a means for communication throughout the Cree Nation for the people to tell them what was going on, what was being discussed, all of the agreements that were being signed and all of the consultations that were taking place.
All these different things were going on and the people needed to be informed. The Nation played an important role in informing the people on what was going on politically and throughout the territory.
2) When it came to telling my own story about where I was before (with my weight and health) and how I changed my lifestyle, I hope that sharing my story was able to make a difference in the lives of others. I am really hoping that the readers out there got the feeling that they could do the same thing and change their lifestyles. I think the Nation did an excellent piece on that.
I loved the idea of promoting health, promoting that you can get well and that things can get better. I guess that was the punchline in my story.
3) In the late 1990s the Journey through the Heart of Eeyou Istchee took place. I remember when the idea was going around in the fall of 1998 or 1999, it was that year when we started promoting the idea to the Cree people.
We didn’t know how big this was going to be when we started out, but once the Nation started covering it and, as the walkers went from one community to the next, it gained so much momentum.
For those who don’t remember, this walk was also done to raise money for dialysis machines so that our people could return home for treatment instead of being shipped out to the cities.
The Nation played a huge role in this by keeping everyone informed as to what was happening and what the youth were doing. It inspired a whole generation and gave them new hope by showing that the youth was there for them and there to help.
I will always remember that journey; I participated in it from Waswanipi to Mistissini. It was a remarkable time and the magazine was a huge part of it.
4) As far as what I am currently doing, I am taking some time to reflect on what I will do next. It has been three months since the last election and it has been pretty nice not to have to go on anybody else’s schedule. I am working on my own agenda right now and part of that involves a lot of reflection to see where I should be going from here.
It’s nice to be able to sit back and think and read. Also I’ve been out hunting a lot with friends for the past months. It’s a really cool life right now.
Deputy Grand Chief Rodney Mark
1) When the Nation first came out, I wasn’t a politician, I was a CEGEP student. I was happy to see a Cree magazine talking about contemporary issues, issues related to the communities and also events that were happening outside of the communities. I thought this was very interesting.
2) As for the impact it has had on the communities themselves, the Nation has really made a contribution by stimulating discussions and also letting people know what is happening and engaging them through literature and writing.
I think that is extremely important and so is the fact that it addresses all of these issues in other perspectives while provoking us to question what was going on.
As for how the magazine covered me, it depended on each issue and what was interesting.
The fact that the Nation covered the issues that needed to be covered is something that I was thankful for.
3) The story that stands out in my mind is when Brian Webb wrote the story on being gay in the Nation. This really set the tone for the Cree communities when it came to tolerance. To me this said that we are all different but that kind of honesty really had an impact and maybe created more tolerance out there.
There are a lot of people in our communities who have that kind of lifestyle and they are not bullied or judged. It really helped people to be sensitive to this issue and it was brave and bold of Brian to do this.
4) I would like to encourage the Nation to keep doing what they have been doing – report on the political issues that are being discussed, question the politicians and let the people know what is going on.
Sometimes people aren’t as proactive as they could be with the stuff that is happening with their local and regional councils. It is hard for all of the leaders to let everybody know what is happening at all times. They do the best they can and at the end of the day sometimes somebody will show up and say I didn’t know this.
Paul Gull, Chief of Waswanipi and former Deputy Grand Chief
1) When the Nation started out, I was asked to be part of the editorial board, but I said, no. I didn’t want to do that but I did want to see how they were going to develop it and that I would support it.
Originally, I supported the idea that we needed the magazine. But it was funny how it played out because people at the time thought it was going to be like a Cree National Enquirer.
Back in the 1990s, I was not working for the Grand Council but was Chief of Waswanipi, not long before this we had started up the Cree Nation Youth Council and I was very involved in that.
I was also at the Cree School Board, serving as its President when the Nation started up.
Over the years it has really helped to reveal what we were doing as a School Board. I remember a quote in the Nation that people liked when I said, “The land is our dictionary.”
As our language is from the land, everybody really seemed to remember that quote.
I remember another time where I thought I was going to make the front page and I ended up being a pin-up on the interior, lol!
2) I guess in terms of milestones, the Nation really highlighted certain areas like when I left the school board.
They also highlighted when I became Chief of my community and at the time I started pushing this idea of change and I think Will wrote it up as “a wave of change.”
He did a story on me as I had just come out of university and after three years away from politics I had come back and I had studied change as an idea of change for our communities.
But you know, all of this happened before Obama made it cool. It was new and a refreshing idea.
Over the years the Nation has helped me and at times guided me when it came to other political leaders like Ted Moses or Billy Diamond.
A lot went on when I was Deputy Grand Chief under Ted Moses as we were doing the negotiations for the Paix des Braves. We had negotiations that broke down, and we changed negotiators. One moment I would be in, then out, then back in – it all seemed to depend on the situation.
We had to play different roles, depending on what they needed, whether it was a diplomat or the devil’s advocate. Ted at the time picked Abel (Bosum) to be the diplomat and so that is how it worked out.
3) I am really proud of what the Nation has brought out to the Crees in terms of communications and people. I know people who get onto Air Creebec flights and the Nation is the only thing they will read.
When you get down to the grassroots, this is how people know about our leadership, how they know us and it has helped the leadership over the years to develop into what we are as an activist Nation that has become more and more transparent. People questioned what we did and they recognized that the Nation was a tool for us to talk to leadership.